International Alligator Expert Speaking At Zoo Tuesday

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Topeka Zoo Media Release

TOPEKA, Kan. – How would you like it if an alligator leapt out of the water, grabbed the back of your head, and pulled your scalp over your face so that when you opened your eyes you saw your hair? Was it your fault? Was it the alligator’s fault? It was Ken’s fault. For a split second, he allowed himself to be distracted. In that split of a second, he almost lost his life.

What would that experience do to you? To biologist Ken Alfieri, it forever bonded his life to the study of crocodilian behavior. The gator wasn’t trying to kill him. It just wanted to be fed. When Ken got distracted, his shift in attention resulted in a flinch. The gator interpreted it as food was coming.

On the species that almost took his life, Ken has become one of its leading advocates. His talents in understanding alligator behavior have been recruited around the world.

“Ken Alfieri has become one of this country’s experts on alligators and now his skill and expertise is needed here in Topeka,” Zoo Director Brendan Wiley said.

Imagine if your phone rang one day and the caller at the other end said, “We need 40 to 50 two to four-foot alligators in a pool cohabitating peacefully. By the way, we need it in three weeks.”

Lucky for you and me, it wasn’t our phone that rang. It was Ken’s.

Late in the evening of April 21, Ken Alfieri will arrive in Topeka with a truck carrying 50 juvenile alligators. Ken is coming as part of the team from AIDG that is installing the traveling exhibit, Alligator Frenzy. Days before, the alligators will have been rescued from farms and refuges in the Southern United States. Ken’s job is direct. Introduce and make compatible at least 40 of the 50 gators in just three days.

While in Topeka, Ken is making himself available for a special edition of the zoo’s Conservation Lecture Series at 6.p.m., Tuesday, April 23rd. During that presentation, Ken will share his story and experiences. He will show pictures and videos that tell the story of the North American Alligator. And where Ken is involved, you can almost be guaranteed that the use of a live alligator will be involved as well. Finally, he will tell the story of how in three days, he was able to introduce at least forty alligators to a point of cohabitation in a pool at the Topeka Zoo. This will be an event you won’t want to miss.

The presentation will be given in the Gary K. Clarke Living Classroom and admission to the event is free. For more information on the presentation, contact the zoo at 785-368-9180. Alligator Frenzy opens May 9.

And about the terrifying story mentioned earlier, it’s true. It happened at an alligator-themed attraction in the Southern United States almost 20 years ago – before cell phones, digital pictures and texting. A tourist with an old-fashioned camera was not too far away, watching the morning alligator feeding. He saw the gator lunge out of the water and grab Ken’s head.

A year later, the tourist took the film from his camera to be developed. (Remember when people did that?) When he saw the picture he had unknowingly captured of the gator with Ken’s head in his mouth, he made a copy and sent it to Ken. Ken says he has the picture but chose not to release it to us.